Mental health is a difficult subject to open up about. This is especially true if you are in an environment away from your normal support circles and sense of community.
This is a reality that out of state college students enter into once they come onto campus. Out of state students experience all the stresses and anxieties of the typical college student.
Their situation is unique and complicated though, because annually they rotate cities, states and communities.
Conversations about mental health, and the importance of opening up to trusted people in your community, have been stigmatized in the past and characterized as a weakness.
While it is important that, as a society, we end these stigmas for the benefit of all, it seems to be an especially crucial battle on college campuses. College students, especially out of state college students, need to be able to have safe places, free of stigmas related to mental health, so that they are enabled to process the academic and relational stress that comes with a college experience, and find ways to regenerate.
Speaking with four out of state students at Seattle Pacific University, I learned that one of most difficult parts of living out of state is the period of transition, redefining one’s identity, making connections and reestablishing a brand new community.
Genevieve Marion, a second year at SPU who hails from Colorado, shared that she struggles to comprehend and switch mindsets when she transitions from summer to school saying, “we literally live two different lives.”
This constant disruption of setting can be very stressful for Marion and other out of state students that have to learn to reorganize their lives with each new season.The environment of university campuses can be stressful, ambitious, and demanding.
DJ Watts, a junior from Nevada, cited that a main stressor he first felt entering college was that of comparison between himself and his peers, and constantly redefining himself. “It always seems like everyone else has their life planned better than you.”
Processing who you are in college is difficult in itself, but starting over in a place without the comforts of familiar friends, family and scenery is exponentially more strenuous to one’s mental health.
It is important that as a student body and university as a whole, we present a new community to students that is loving, supportive and a place where all of their needs can be met, professionally and personally.
This is why it is especially important that the student body and administration alike be conscientious of our dialogue surrounding mental health, as campus represents the first resource that new students come into contact with in terms of learning how to navigate the complexities of college life.
What makes the transition between settings especially difficult, as said by Devan Peel, a senior from Michigan who has attended four universities (including SPU), is the main point that stigmas surrounding mental health discourages the conversation that cultivate processing and healing.
Three of the four students interviewed cited stigmas around mental health to be one of the main antagonists in college and in their experience as an out of state student. They stated that stigmas around mental health hinders actual progress and healing for people that do experience depression, anxiety and other mental stressors.
While students can easily identify issues surrounding society’s current approach to mental health, they are just as quick to suggest ways that our campus can combat present stigmas.
Students said that forms of addressing the issue could include advertising the six free counseling sessions students are offered annually, bringing in guest speakers to talk about mental health and incorporating more weeks that focus on mental health, like the recent body positive week.
Mental health at SPU should be a centerpiece of this Christian university’s discussions in the pursuit of reconciliation. However, many people are afraid of entering into these conversation for fear of saying something offensive.
However, what is worse than saying the wrong thing is not saying anything at all. If we are to truly come alongside all students in our community as a university, then we have to be willing to enter into uncomfortable spaces and offer the support that is needed.
The students I talked to said that SPU needs to be doing more to capitalize on mental health and proclaim their support for students, and not just out of state students, because all members of this community deserve a space to feel acknowledged and listened to without persecution or judgement.
Recognizing our opportunity for leadership as a campus while our society continues to struggle with discussing these subjects will take intentionality and courage, but will ultimately result in our community becoming more inviting and inclusive for all who encounter it.